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Energy & Environment

A big film studio is coming to San Marcos, but environmentalists are concerned about the location

A sign says "City Hall San Marcos, Texas."
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
At a meeting tonight, San Marcos City Council will look into giving economic incentives to Hill Country Studios, a company proposing to build an 820,000-square-foot film production studio in the city.

Hays County could be the next region in Central Texas to house a massive, full-service film production studio.

At tonight’s San Marcos City Council meeting, members are weighing what kind of economic incentives to give the company that wants to build it. But many are concerned that the proposed location is on environmentally sensitive land: a 75-acre slice of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

Hill Country Studios is proposing to build an 820,000-square-foot film studio on land within the La Cima Development, a master-planned community west of I-35. The facility would include sound stages, backlots and space for production offices. Construction would start in April 2023.

A tax incentive is on the table that would position the city to refund a portion of the project's property taxes over a five-year period. The kickbacks would go into effect once the project is complete, which is estimated to be in 2025.

Cities often employ economic development incentives like this to make deals with companies that are willing to bring in well-paying jobs. According to city documents, the project promises to have 44 full-time employees by the time the buildout is complete.

Those in favor of the project say a film studio could be transformational to the area, providing jobs, attracting contract workers and stimulating local business. City documents also point to potential partnerships with local schools and opportunities for training and internships.

But many community members are concerned about such a large development on a crucial chunk of recharge zone. Recharge zones are basically open spaces of land that absorb rainwater and replenish the aquifer below. The Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water to a number of cities. It's also the source of the San Marcos Springs, which feed the San Marcos River.

Virginia Parker, the executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation, said the San Marcos River is the “lifeblood” of the town. Parker said the film studio’s economic impact would be great for San Marcos, but protecting the river should also be top of mind.

The nonprofit is encouraging the city to consider asking the developer to use conservation-minded development methods in exchange for economic incentives. One example is using porous materials when constructing sidewalks and courtyards, so that rainwater can still flow through the ground and into the aquifer.

“We just want things to be done really carefully over the recharge zone,” Parker said. “Once it's paved over, we can't undo that.”

Ultimately, Parker said she wants everyone involved to be thinking in a “protective manner” for the Edwards Aquifer and the San Marcos Springs.

"No matter who the builder or developer is, we want them to take extra care on the recharge zone so that we still have flowing springs in 100 years,” she said.

At the meeting tonight, the City Council will negotiate the terms of the economic incentives. The meeting will be held in person and streamed live at 6 p.m. Watch the meeting here.

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct size of the film studio: 820,000 square feet.

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